On The Essential Wooden

I just finished reading The Essential Wooden – A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. As the title indicates this book condenses coach Wooden’s philosophies on leadership. What is truly surprising is the applicability of these principles to the corporate world just as much as that on the court.

The fundamental basis of Wooden’s coaching philosophy is best described in the preface: “…success. as measured by each one of us individually, is the peace of mind derived from making the absolute and complete effort to do the best of which you are capable. The quality of our effort to realize your potential counts first and foremost. For John Wooden that is success. And it is different from winning – beating an opponent in basketball, business, or life.” Built on that is Wooden’s infamous pyramid of success which captures the beliefs, behaviors and character attributes required to reach success – “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

I personally have not watched Wooden coach a game, or follow his championship winning teams – but I can tell through reading this book that he was and through his work continues to be a great leader and inspiration. A highly recommended read, in which everyone can find numerous lessons to be learned and applied.

Below are some excerpts that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Here is Dad’s simple guide for knowing what is right: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.””

2- “Adversity makes you tougher, more capable of dealing with trouble the next time it comes looking for you. Over and over I’ve seen the great benefit that comes to those who face adversity. Tough times make you tougher. A free ride isn’t free.”

3- “The Pyramid of Success: Industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, condition, skill, team spirit, poise, confidence, faith, patience, competitive greatness -> Success ”

4- “How to teach: 1- Explanation, 2- Demonstration, 3- Imitation (correction when necessary) 4- Repetition”

5- “10 Team Tips: 1) Be thinking at all times. 2- If you do your best, never lose your temper, and never be out-fought or out-hustled, you’ll have nothing to worry about. 3- Without faith and courage, you are lost. 4- Have respect for, without fear of, every opponent, and confidence without cockiness in regard to yourself. 5- Never be a spectator. Be in the fight at all times. 6- Unselfish team play and team spirit are two of the foremost essentials for our success. 7- We have tough battles ahead. Enjoy the thrill of being in a hard fight. 8- Never stoop to playing dirty – play hard and don’t complain. 9- Be sure you acknowledge and give credit to a teammate who hits you with a scoring pass or for any fine play he may make. 10- Be a competitor. When the going gets tough, really get going.”

6- “My normal expectations of team members: 1- Always be a gentleman. 2- Always be a team player. 3- Always be on time whenever time is involved. 4- Always be learning. 5- Always be enthusiastic, dependable, and cooperative. 6- Always be earning the right to be proud and confident.7- Always keep emotions under control without loosing fight or aggressiveness. 8- Be spirited, not temperamental. 9- Always work to improve, knowing you can never improve enough.”

7- “Everybody’s got buttons, including you. The smart leader knows where the buttons are on those under his or her supervision. The wise leader also knows where his or her own buttons are.”

8- “Admonitions and Truisms: 1- Do nothing that will bring discredit to the team. 2- Develop great personal pride in all aspects of your job. 3- The player who has done his best has done everything, while the player who has done less than his best is a failure. 4- Competition is perhaps 50 percent fight and 50 percent knowledge. 5- Truly believe that you are better than your opponent in fighting spirit and you will be mighty difficult to defeat.”

9- “Suggestions for all team members: 1- Never nag, razz, or criticize a teammate. 2- Never expect favors. 3- Never make excuses. 4- Never be selfish, jealous, envious, or egotistical. 5- Never lose faith or patience. 6- Never waste time. 7- Never load, sulk, or boast. 8- Never require repeated criticism for the same mistake. 9- Never have reason to be sorry afterward.”

10- “Good leadership requires all the resources of the head and heart you can muster. Too much from the head and you forget all leadership is about people; too much from the heart and you can’t make those tough decisions that may hurt some of those people.”

11- “Seven ways to make your criticism count: 1- Get all of the facts. 2- Don’t lash out. 3- Be specific. 4- Don’t make it personal. 5- Do it privately to avoid embarrassment. 6- Only the leader gives criticism. 7- Once done, it’s done.”

12- “The leader’s to-do list: 1- Promote sincerity, optimism, and enthusiasm. 2- Stamp out pessimism and negative sarcasm. 3- Recognize the value of a valid commendation. 4- When disagreeing, do not become disagreeable. 5- Make sure each person understands his or her specific role in making the team a success.”

13- “Promise yourself: 1- Promise to be so strong that nothing can disturb your piece of mind. 2- Promise to be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are of your own. 3- Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the press of trouble.”


Omar Halabieh

The Essential Wooden

The Essential Wooden


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